New France coach Brunel to AFP: 'Winning Six Nations top priority'

Paris (AFP) –


New France coach Jacques Brunel told AFP that his immediate ambition is to win the Six Nations and end the negative spiral which has enveloped the struggling national team.

Bordeaux boss Brunel, 63, takes over from Guy Noves who became the first French coach to be sacked on Wednesday after a meagre seven wins from 22 matches alongside 14 defeats and a humiliating home draw with 2019 World Cup hosts Japan.

Under his watch, France lost six consecutive games between June and November this year.

"Our aim is to win the Six Nations," former Italy coach Brunel told AFP.

"Perhaps in the past, we were too focused on winning the World Cup and not enough on the present moment and that is the Six Nations. Every year, France must be competitive for the final victory."

Brunel cautioned against making the same errors which jinxed Noves who called up 74 players during his time at the helm.

"There are still two years before the World Cup. For the Six Nations, we must take the best players, the fittest players. In any team, you need a mix of young and more experienced players.

"There are quality young players -- but you have to find that balance."

Brunel joins the national set-up from Top 14 side Bordeaux-Begles just five weeks before France face Ireland in their Six Nations opener.

His contract stretches to the 2019 World Cup.

"We have to go back to the simple things," added Brunel with the Six Nations opener against Ireland just five weeks away.

Brunel admitted that he had intially hesitated to take the job when it was offered with his Bordeaux team within touching distance of the Top 14 play-offs.

"It was a surprise. Never in my life did I expect to be asked," he said.

- Nothing to prove -

"On the one hand, I couldn't imagine what was going to happen with Guy Noves, although I know that as a coach we are subject to these hazards.

"On the other hand, I have a job at Bordeaux-Begles so I didn't know if I could release myself. Also, I have made three World Cups (as assistant coach to the French team and as coach of Italy), prepared for around 130 international matches, so I wasn't waiting for another appointment.

"I don't need to break records or manage my image. I expect nothing but it was difficult to say no!"

Brunel said he is looking no further than the game with Ireland on February 5.

"We have to rediscover some of the confidence we have lost. Our ambition is to win that first match and everything should then take care of itself."

To help him, Brunel will be able to call upon the experience of a range of Top 14 coaches who will bring their special skills to the national squad up to the 2019 World Cup where France will attempt to win the trophy for the first time.

Those coaches, however, will remain employees of their respective clubs.

"Ideally I would like a scrummaging and line-out specialist and two or three more general specialists," he explained.

"But I think that, because of the proximity of the Six Nations, it will be difficult to get everyone together quickly."

He refused to speculate on who will be his right-hand men.

"I'm going to sound out the coaches tomorrow (Thursday), see how much they want to come and that means involving their club presidents."

French rugby federation president Bernard Laporte hailed Brunel for his passion "of man and rugby".

"That's his major strength. He is able to assume this responsibility which is not an easy one. He has broad shoulders and experience," said the French rugby chief.

Brunel was once ex France boss Laporte's right-hand man as forwards coach from 2001-2007.

He took Perpignan to the French league title in 2009 and spent five years in charge of Italy between 2011 and 2016 before switching to Bordeaux.

Brunel will officially begin the task of rebuilding the national side next week, Laporte said, after his final match as Bordeaux coach against Stade Francais on Saturday.